Title: Tapas
Author: Penelope Casas
247 pages; Hardcover PhotographyColor
Alfred Knoff, NY NY, 2007
Reviewed Greg Goldsmith, for Good Cooking, Inc. March 2007

Who among us doesn’t desire to be hip and trendy once in a while? Who among us wouldn’t be happy to achieve such a status with a little bit less effort? Enter Penelope Casas. The new edition of Casas’ book Tapas allows those of us who desire to entertain, but no longer have the luxury of spending all day in the kitchen, to create some flashy appetizers and attractive main courses without having to bring in hired help.

The trendy Spanish bar snacks, first introduced to the states more than twenty years ago, have never been more popular. Ranging from simple marinated mushrooms to the layers of shrimp in phyllo dough with soy mayonnaise, tapas are perfect to share with good wine and good conversation. Casas, a noted master of the cuisine who has traveled Spain to seek out the finest and most authentic recipes, presents the updated version of her 1985 book with fifty new recipes. Her well-thought out introduction is still pertinent today, possessing the background necessary for a novice to get started and sufficient depth for someone already versed in Spanish cuisine. Simple and containing only a few color photographs, Casas harkens to a time when cookbooks were full of recipes.

I spent several nights cooking and creating tapas for friends, trying to achieve the hip and trendy status that I normally find so elusive. Conveniently, the recipes in Tapas are divided based on their style (e.g. with or without sauce) and then organized by main ingredient (e.g. salad or fish) within a section. Thanks to ingredients, cookware, and menu appendices, my trip to the grocery store was painless. Recipes with advance preparation such as an overnight marinade are clearly designated, and recipes with last-minute preparation have their own section in the book.

How did the food turn out? We especially loved the quick concept of chorizo ‘lollipops,” where crunchy caramel gave way to the spicy sausage. The mussels and shrimp in avocado vinaigrette were easily prepared and had a layering of wonderful flavors. The goat cheese, piquillo pepper, and honey canape was a delight with the Spanish cheese Monte Enebro. All this is not to say that the book doesn’t contain more involved recipes as well, in fact, some may be rather overambitious for the average home cook. Try the fried beer-marinated wings with salsa brava if you are looking for something with a little more work.

Tapas provided great food, with well-written recipes for any home cook on any occasion. But be forewarned, traditional Spanish tapas doesn’t include dessert. Then again, my guests were too full anyway.

Recipes tested---

"Chupa Chups" de chori zo (CHORIZO "LOLLIPOPS")

l came across this fascinating tapa at Els Fogons de Can Llaudes restaurant set in a centuries-old chapel on the main square of the delightful Catalan town of Besalu. Iconoclastic chef Jaume Sole only seats those with reservations; there is only one seating and just 4 tables. The chorizo on the tasting menu arrived at the table speared on a stick, as if it were a lollipop, and coated with crackling sugar. I've come across the combination of chorizo with honey or sugar before, but never presented in such a fanciful manner.
Don't prepare these more than an hour or so in advance or the sugar coating may soften. To keep the lollipops from touching anything while the sugar hardens, I like to spear the lollipops into a bread loaf and leave them there for a spectacular presentation.


3 ounces chorizo, preferably imported, skin removed, cut in 3/8-inch slices
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
A long loaf of bread

Spear the chorizo slices vertically onto 4-6-inch wooden skewers, as if it they were lollipops, one slice of chorizo per stick.
To make the candied sugar, stir the sugar and water in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat and boil without stirring until the mixture turns light amber, occasionally brushing down pan sides with a wet pastry brush and swirling pan, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat and, holding the chorizo by the skewer, quickly dip it in the sugar and spear into the bread at an angle, being careful not to drip the hot sugar on your hands. Cool, snap off any sugar drippings, and present the chorizo on a tray, speared into the bread.

Mussels and Shrimp in Avocado Vinalgrette (ME)ILLONES Y GAMBAS EN VINAGRETA DE AGUACATE)
This tapa comes under the category of nueva cocina vasca-"nouvelle" Basque cuisine-and was found at an attractive restaurant in Madrid called Restaurante Basque.

1 dozen medium mussels
1 slice lemon
8 large shrimp, unshelled
Shredded lettuce
Minced parsley

A 1-pound avocado
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
1 teaspoon grated onion
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Place the mussels in a skillet with %z cup water and the lemon slice. Bring to a boil and remove the mussels as they open. Cool. Discard the shells and, to keep the mussels moist, place them in a bowl with a little of the liquid in which they have cooked. Cook the shrimp in the remaining mussel liquid for a minute or two. Cool and shell.

To prepare the dressing, peel the avocado and remove the pit. Cut the avocado in pieces and place in a processor with the lemon juice. Blend until smooth. Gradually add the olive oil. Season very well with salt and pepper and add the mustard, onion, and red pepper. [May be prepared ahead]

Arrange the mussels and shrimp attractively on a bed of shredded lettuce. Cover with the avocado dressing, and sprinkle with parsley. Serve cold or at room temperature.